Sunday, November 30, 2014


It's made quite clear early on in Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur that Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a man with a very short temper. (Ah, stereotypes.) But it's also made clear that Joseph is a broken man as well. (We find out that Joseph's a widower.)

One day, he ducks into Hannah's (Olivia Colman) shop. Hannah, by first appearances, seems like she has everything going for her. Then it's revealed that her home life is anything but. (The first scene between her and her husband James (Eddie Marsan) drives that point home rather disturbingly well.)

There have been a number of fictional pieces involving broken people coming together but Tyrannosaur feels different from other works. It's not afraid to show the hell these characters go through. (And it can get pretty gruesome sometimes.) Though it does get a little too involved in some of this hell.

Onto the performances. Marsan is unnerving in the scenes he's in. Mullan in turn shows a warmer, more welcoming side beneath that fiery nature. But the star of the film is easily Colman. Thank God she's become more in demand in recent years.

Even though it gets bogged down in its own darkness, Tyrannosaur is still a good film. (Would you believe this is Considine's first foray as a director?) Thanks to the work from Mullan, Colman and Marsan, the film shows the darker side of human nature.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, November 23, 2014


The relationships we have through our lives are never like the perfect ones we see in the movies. There are differences, jealousies and insecurities, all of which can boil into something messy. (Reality can be a cruel mistress sometimes.)

Xavier Dolan's Heartbeats is one such film to highlight the complicated bonds we form in our lives. Revolving around two friends (Dolan, Monica Chokri) as they vie for the affections of the same man (Niels Schneider), the film depicts how easily personal connections can fray.

Much like Dolan's previous film I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats isn't interested in having you take sides with any of the characters. It's just interested in telling a story. (More films should adhere to this tactic.)

Also like I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats has various shots that make the film essentially the epitome of an art film. But unlike I Killed My Mother, the shots in Heartbeats tend to overwhelm the story. Still, at least with context they make complete sense. (Unlike those in similar art/foreign films.)

Though not as good as his previous film, Dolan does try his best with Heartbeats. He also continues to prove that for a young talent like himself, Dolan knows how to tell a story. Certainly a director to keep an eye on in the years to come.

My Rating: ****

Beyond the Lights

You know how with most female-led films, the plot almost always revolves around the leading lady finding the man of her dreams. (It should be pointed out that these films are often directed/written by people who follow too many Hollywood cliches.) Thankfully, there have been exceptions. (If there weren't any, there wouldn't be anything good to watch.)

There have been a number of male-directed films with strong female leads. (An Unmarried Woman and Opening Night come to mind.) But rarely do you see this applied to films directed by women. If anything, you could count those films on one hand. Long story short, there needs to be more women-directed films with strong female leads.

Gina Prince-Bythewood's Beyond the Lights is one of the new entries featuring a strong female lead. (And a very good one too.) Indeed, the film has a romantic storyline but there's more to the film than that. It's also a story of a woman trying to survive through life.

The film's two leads are Gugu Mbatha-Raw (previously seen in the excellent Belle) and Nate Parker. Both actors are relatively new to audiences, but hopefully they'll get more recognition thanks to this. They're both fantastic here.

A few small flaws aside, Beyond the Lights is great. Thanks to the work from Mbatha-Raw and Parker, the film proves that this is the kind of film we should be getting more often. Just something to keep in mind, you know?

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Double

Richard Ayoade's first film Submarine was a clear homage to the works of Wes Anderson, complete with quirky characters and bright colors against neutral backgrounds. So what about his second film The Double? Two words: Alfred Hitchcock.

Bases on the novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the film follows Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) as he goes basically unnoticed by the world around him. Then he discovers his double James Simon and his life starts to spiral out of control.

From a visual standpoint, The Double is stunning. The film is primarily set at night and Erik Wilson's cinematography makes the most of it. The editing by Chris Dickens and Nick Fenton adds a certain dark humor to the film. (It's also very reminiscent of Dickens' work for Edgar Wright.) Very rarely do the technical aspects of a film work as well as they do here.

And Eisenberg's work simply must be mentioned. Some of Simon's early scenes are very reminiscent of Buster Keaton. (Fitting since Ayoade had Eisenberg watch some of Keaton's films in preparation for his role.) James, meanwhile, is very reminiscent of Eisenberg's work in The Social Network. It's definitely a performance worth seeing.

The Double has a few minor flaws but overall it's a damn good film. Ayoade proves with this film that he's a director to keep a close eye on. He knows how to tell a story.

My Rating: ****1/2

Friday, November 21, 2014

Welcome to Sarajevo

War is hell. We live in a world where we've practically gotten accustomed to the bloodshed between countries. Has there ever been a time in history where war hadn't broke out between at leas two countries?

Even amid all of the chaos, there are acts of humanity among those trying to survive. (Schindler's List provides one of the more famous examples.) Many of such stories were from the World War II era but there have been some from the last twenty or so years.

Michael Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo is one such film to focus on such a story. Based on British journalist Michael Nicholson's experiences during the Bosnian War, the film depicts human behavior even in the most hellish situations. (Even when it's survival of the fittest, human endeavor can prevail.)

Being only familiar with Winterbottom's comedies (24 Hour Party People, The Trip), it was a bit of a shock to see a film of his with such brutal realism. (This was film on location shortly after the peace agreement was signed.) Winterbottom isn't interested in cheap emotions. He wants to tell a story.

It falters in some scenes but Welcome to Sarajevo stays solid in others. Thanks to Frank Cottrell Boyce's script and the work from Stephen Dillane, Woody Harrelson and Marisa Tomei, the film depicts a glimmer of hope amid pure hell.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Every year, we get an absolute menagerie of films. It's a blessing for those who like a wide variety of choices whenever they head to the movie theater. But as is the case with every passing year, there are those films that tend to slip beneath notice.

Such is the case with Lenny Abrahamson's Frank. It's easy to see how it got overlooked upon its release. (Being an indie released in the middle of the summer is one such reason.) But that doesn't mean it should have been ignored.

Usually British-produced films have a certain charm to them, and that is also the case with Frank. In a similar vein to the work of Wes Anderson, the film's charm coincides with its quirks. It's not usually a winning situation to some but it should also be pointed out that the humor of Frank is much darker than the humor in Anderson's films.

Sure, the premise and characters sound like the makings of a very silly film. But behind every happy story, there's tragedy. The film starts off on a whimsical note but it becomes clear as it wears on that there's much more to the characters than they're letting on.

Frank isn't anything groundbreaking but it's an entertaining watch. Thanks mainly to the work from Domhnall Gleeson and Michael Fassbender, the films shows how certain people interact and how it can lead to not-so-ideal situations. (Ah, life.)

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Obvious Child

We've seen this cliche time and time again: girl next door gets pregnant after one-night stand, ponders over whether or not to get an abortion, ultimately decides to have baby. To be honest, it's such bullshit thinking a woman will always choose having a child, even if they can't afford raising it. (And don't even think about adoption coming into the picture either.) Like, what the fuck happened to pro-choice?

Thank God for Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child. For once, we don't have the weepy melodramatic nonsense you normally see in any movie or TV show involving an unplanned pregnancy. (Especially considering this is, you know, a comedy.)

What's also worth mentioning is that Obvious Child doesn't make the unplanned pregnancy the main plot of the film. If anything, the subject is merely a mild conversation starter. Sounds callous, perhaps, but this isn't just a film about abortion. It's also a film about the various connections we make in our lives.

That is actually something most comedies (and occasionally films themselves) tend to skimp on. We've gotten so accustomed to seeing strictly romantic relationships that we've forgotten about how nice just normal friendships are in both fiction and real life. It should be more common.

Obvious Child is one of those films that we should get more often. It doesn't stoop to the lows most comedies fall to. It's smart, funny and above all else, it's clever. If you haven't seen it yet, be sure that you do.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Prisoners, the last film by Denis Villeneuve, was certainly bleak and dark in its own right. (It is a film revolving around child abductions after all.) But Enemy, the newest work from Villeneuve, is both of those things as well as creepy as hell.

Starring in Enemy is Jake Gyllenhaal, who worked with Villeneuve on Prisoners. Here, Gyllenhaal does the occasionally difficult part in any actor's career: a dual role. In the wrong hands, it would be a disaster. In Gyllenhaal's, it's one hell of a performance.

The two roles Gyllenhaal takes on couldn't be any more different from each other. The first role is Adam Bell, a meek college professor. Much like Gyllenhaal's work in Zodiac, Adam slowly becomes obsessed with something happening within his life. It's really a transfixing performance.

The other role is Anthony Claire, a small-time actor. Much like Gyllenhaal's work in Nightcrawler, Anthony seems like a normal person. That is, until his true colors come to light. Again, it's a really transfixing performance.

Enemy is good though not without its problems. For starters, Gyllenhaal's the only actor to get well-rounded characters. It would've been nice to see what Melanie Laurent and Sarah Gadon could have done with their roles had they'd been more developed. But alas, this is what we have.

My Rating: ****

Monday, November 17, 2014


The world we're a part of is far from perfect. Innocent people are persecuted (and prosecuted) while the true monsters of society walk among us. When will there be justice for those who deserve it?

Jon Stewart's Rosewater is the latest film to ask this question. The film focuses on Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari's arrest following the controversial 2009 presidential election. (It should also be pointed that it was an interview on Stewart's own show that got Bahari in hot water.)

The film stars Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari. While not exactly his best work (that goes to The Motorcycle Diaries), Bernal does keep the film afloat from beginning to end. Though one has to wonder why Stewart cast a Mexican actor instead of an Iranian one. (Again, Bernal is still good regardless.)

There's no doubt that Stewart's a good news anchor but how are his skills as a director? Rosewater certainly brings the facts of the story to life but it feels too sanitized, even for a film. Admittedly, it feels more like a news story than a film.

That said, however, Rosewater is rather good. Even though you can tell this was made by a first-time director, Stewart does show how the world we live in is far form being idyllic. All it takes for the world in becoming a better place is those willing to speak against their government, even if it'll cost them their freedom (or, for the not so fortunate, their lives).

My Rating: ****


You can never be certain as to what someone is actually like. Sometimes that standoffish person is actually really shy. Or, as seen many times in fiction, the friendly, supportive person in your life is actually your worst nightmare.

Damien Chazelle's Whiplash is the latest entry to depict such a person. There have been a number of films that have played up the theme of looks can be deceiving but very rarely are they portrayed in such an intense light. (And that's saying a lot.)

The film stars Miles Teller, a familiar name in recent years from his work in teen-oriented films. Here, he joins the big leagues. He pushes himself in ways that most actors would shy away from. It's safe to say that he'll be getting meatier roles thanks to this.

Teller may be the star of Whiplash but J.K. Simmons easily steals the film. He makes his presence known whenever he's onscreen. He shoots a glare that says, "I can destroy you, and I fucking will." In short, he's brilliantly terrifying.

Whiplash is an electrifying film. Not since Sweet Smell of Success has a film used two dynamic performances like this. And the jazz. Oh, that sweet and sinister jazz. What is it about that music that brings out the beast in people?

My Rating: *****

Friday, November 14, 2014


You have to admire the meta-induced irony throughout Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman. After all, the main character is a washed-up actor trying to escape his most famous role in a comic book movie. And who better to play that role than Michael Keaton?

But it's not just about Keaton's casting and performance that should interest you in seeing Birdman. As expected from an Inarritu film, the rest of the actors are great. Among them are Emma Stone, Edward Norton (also playing an exaggerated version of himself), Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Naomi Watts and Amy Ryan. (There's also Lindsay Duncan in a small but effective role.) Of them, Norton stands out the most. (Apparently self-parody is the way to go for acclaim.)

As with any piece of fiction revolving around those in the performing arts, it's only a matter of time before life starts to imitate art for the characters. For Birdman, this is applied on both a fictional and meta level (as previously mentioned). Talk about life being stranger than fiction.

Much like what Joseph A. Valentine, William V. Skall and William H. Ziegler did with Rope, Birdman is shot in a way to make it look like it was shot in one continuous take. Thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki, Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione, the film's story becomes more ambitious in depiction. (It's also easy to see why it's a feat not often attempted.)

Birdman is certainly an ambitious film from both a storytelling and production standpoint. It might not rank among some of the other films about show business to others but the handiwork from Inarritu and the actors will certainly keep people talking.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, November 13, 2014


The current generation is facing mounting pressures of finding a steady job as well as settling down the minute they graduate from college. Sure, it's something that previous generations have been taught as well but considering the present state of the economy, the job market and the housing market, they're a bit harder to achieve nowadays.

But of course there are those who feel overwhelmed at their future. (I myself am currently in this situation.) All of the options are there but they don't want to grow up just yet. They just don't want to face all that responsibility so quickly.

Lynn Shelton's Laggies is one such film that revolves around those in the latter situation. Sure, there have been countless films focusing on mid-life crises but what about a quarter-life crisis? Surely you yourself have had one. (I've had several in the last few years.)

Starring in Laggies is Keira Knightley, an actress I've had mixed feelings towards. But here, she has finally won me over. (Okay, this and The Imitation Game.) It was as I was watching the film that I realized that she was more than just the prim and proper lady of various costume dramas.

Laggies is good but if you've seen enough chick flicks, it's rather predictable. Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell are good but even they can't salvage this. Still, it's a cute enough date movie.

My Rating: ****

St. Vincent

Comedies as of late have been lacking. They all have jokes that are either not funny and/or offensive to a certain demographic. (Unless that's sort of the point from a satirical way.) Can't comedies nowadays just rely on good comedic timing?

Perhaps Theodore Melfi's St. Vincent has answered those prayers. (Sorry.) It's not reliant on crass humor nor the insensitive type. Instead, it revolves around a really dry wit from the main character, something that's more associated on television than in film.

Said main character is played by Bill Murray, which is certainly a role he has specialized for the last thirty plus years. Here, he plays the role as usually expected but with some added heart to it. Sounds like a cliche, perhaps, but it's something that works.

But the film isn't just about Murray. Melfi also enlisted some other choice actors as well. Melissa McCarthy gets a nice serious role to add to her resume. Naomi Watts' role is certainly...something. But the actor who deserves the most attention is Jaeden Lieberher. Anyone who can go toe-to-toe with Murray deserves a mention.

St. Vincent is good but it's nothing too special. The script and the acting are good but overall they're not really anything to write home about. Sure, it's charming but it's just your average comedy. (At least it's not a crude one.)

My Rating: ****

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Woman's Face

George Cukor is a name synonymous with "women's pictures". Films like The Women (of course), The Philadelphia Story and A Star is Born. Suffice to say it must have felt unusual when he made A Woman's Face, a film noir.

That said, however, A Woman's Face does maintain the common trait of Cukor's other films like Camille and Born Yesterday: women trying to survive in the society they're a part of. And of course with this being a noir, that's the main theme of the film. (Who said this had to be a man's genre?)

In the lead role is Joan Crawford, who at time was only known for glamorous roles like The Women. Here, she got a chance to show off her abilities as an actress. And thank God she got meatier roles as a result of it too (such as her Oscar-winning work in Mildred Pierce).

Also worth mentioning is the way A Woman's Face is shot and framed, courtesy of Robert Planck and Cedric Gibbons. As the title implies, one of the main focuses is that of Crawford's character's face. (The right side of it is heavily scarred for the first third.) Because of this, Crawford is often shot from the left throughout the film. A small detail, but one worth mentioning.

A Woman's Face is a lesser-known film of Cukor and Crawford's careers and it's hard to see why that is. It's as concise as any other noir out there (though to a certain point) and it's just as good as the other films released the same year (The Maltese Falcon, The Lady Eve). So, please, seek this film out.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Key Largo

If there was an undisputed king of film noir, it would probably be Humphrey Bogart. The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, In a Lonely Place...the man could command a room just by being in it.

Surprisingly, in John Huston's Key Largo, Bogart isn't the lone main draw of the film. Indeed, as with any studio film of the time period, the cast is certainly one you can't conjure up nowadays. (Ah, the era of the studio contract.) Among some of Bogart's co-stars are Lionel Barrymore, Lauren Bacall (their fourth and last collaboration), Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor. Of them, Robinson and Trevor (who won an Oscar for her work) steal the show.

Even though the general mood of Key Largo is that of a film noir, it doesn't stay that way for the whole film. (In fact, the noir feeling doesn't come into play until Robinson shows up.) The film fluctuates between noir, melodrama and disaster film, a strange menagerie of genres to say the least.

Huston certainly had his fair share of dabbling in different material throughout his career. The general consensus of his work overall ranges from eternal classics (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) to somber adaptations (The Night of the Iguana) to films that aged like a fine wine (The Misfits). So where does Key Largo fit into? Well, to be honest, it's more of the second category, albeit a flawed entry. (Then again, Huston had his share of misses throughout his career.)

Key Largo is good though certain elements of it show the film's age. (And not generally in a good way.) It's certainly one of the lesser-acclaimed entries of the Huston/Bogart collaboration (and, to an extent, Bogart/Bacall) though it's worthy of a look at least.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Journalists are always depicted two different ways in fiction. One way shows them determined to get their story, even if it involves annoying the police and those close to the case. The other way shows journalists as amoral bastards who are willing to break the law just to get their story.

In regards with Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler, it is most definitely the latter. Set primarily during the fluorescent-lit nights of Los Angeles, the film is, quite frankly, sheer pulp. And what pulp it is.

The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a role that could easily be a spiritual successor to Travis Bickle. He always remains calm (aside from one quick frightening moment), he doesn't swear (apart from one interaction), and he all in all seems pleasant. Then you get to know him.

Nightcrawler itself shows how consumed we've become with sensationalizing everything. We need everything we watch to be eye-catching and graphic. Tabloid headlines, reality TV shows, ripped-from-the-headlines movies...we've become a society that will gleefully watch humanity as we know it crumble to pieces.

Nightcrawler is a film that is clearly a mesh of Taxi Driver, Network and Drive, and it's mystifying. It's bleak, bizarre and maddening. In other words, the very things life itself can become. After all, life can be stranger that fiction.

My Rating: *****